Don’t Let This Small Mistake Ruin Your Personal Essay Pitch

pitch fix
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Welcome back to Pitch Fix, our ongoing column where we look at real pitches from freelance writers and offer suggestions for improvement.

This month, we’re looking at a pitch that is close to being a home run — except for one big problem.

Carisa Peterson’s pitch to Mashable

Carisa Peterson is a writer and playwright in Alma, Colorado. As a parent, she’s interested in writing first-person essays about her experiences managing both a career and children.

She submitted the following pitch to both Mashable and Scary Mommy. The piece was rejected by Scary Mommy and her pitch didn’t get a response from Mashable.

Take a look at the pitch Peterson sent to Mashable, and see if you can spot what might be holding her back:

Dear Stephanie and the editorial staff at Mashable,

I am pleased to submit the following to be considered for publishing on Mashable! Provocative (did someone say, “The Mommy Wars”? Could be good), and particularly relevant right now as children head back to school, the essay below and attached is also shareable from wives to husbands, hoping they’ll “take the hint” ;). I am a published and produced writer (currently as a side gig), and I would love to work with Mashable. Thank you for your consideration!

Carisa Peterson

www.carisapeterson.com

[email and phone number redacted]

About me:

Carisa Peterson writes from her home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Her work can be seen onstage, in print, and online. Please visit www.carisapeterson.com.

There’s a lot that’s good about Peterson’s pitch. It’s short and it focuses on why the story is relevant to readers.

But Peterson’s parenthetical asides undermine her pitch, making it difficult for an editor to understand what she’s offering.

Pitch Fix: Eliminate the parentheses

Peterson’s pitch was hard to read, wasn’t it? You get halfway into a sentence, and then she puts in a parenthetical aside that distracts you from the point she’s trying to make.

Here’s an interesting brain trick, by the way: How many parenthetical asides did you see in Peterson’s pitch?

There are only two — but If you said three, it’s probably because your brain read her winking emoticon as a third end parentheses. It makes it even more difficult to get to the end of her pitch and figure out what she’s actually trying to say.

If an editor can’t understand a writer’s idea at a glance, the pitch is probably not going to move forward. New media writing is designed to be read quickly — that’s why we use visual cues like white space and bold font to help guide readers to the main points.

If your pitch isn’t just as easy to read, your editor might think you don’t have what it takes to write a good story.

Peterson’s writing also includes the redundancies we saw in Connor Relyea’s pitch last month. “I am pleased to submit the following to be considered for publishing on Mashable!” could easily be shortened to “I am pleased to submit the following pitch to Mashable.” Everyone involved knows they’re going to consider the pitch, so there’s no need to waste words on “to be considered for publishing.”

Here’s how I’d fix this pitch:

Dear Stephanie,

I am pleased to pitch “Oops, We Forgot to Tell You — We Can’t Do it All” to Mashable! Provocative and particularly relevant right now as children head back to school, this story is designed to draw in readers from both sides of the Mommy Wars — and is shareable from moms to moms as well as from wives to husbands.

I’ve included a draft below for your consideration. Previous clips include [TITLE] and [TITLE]. Thank you!

Carisa Peterson

www.carisapeterson.com

[email and phone number redacted]

About me:

Carisa Peterson writes from her home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Her work can be seen onstage, in print, and online. Please visit www.carisapeterson.com.

I put the title of Peterson’s story in the very first sentence of her pitch, since she didn’t include that information anywhere in her last pitch.

I removed her parentheses and emoticons, and took out the part where she called writing a “side gig.”

I also added a sentence for Peterson to showcase her best clips; this is a much stronger way of proving her skills than writing “I am a published and produced writer.”

Peterson’s response

I asked Peterson if she agreed with my Pitch Fix, and if it would influence her pitches in the future. Here’s her response:

Believe it or not, this is not the first time that I have been told that my writing can be hard to read. Usually it is in the context of a reaction to what I think is a snappy Facebook status update (I’ll refrain from using the sideways smiley emoticon, here). Your advice helps to clarify what, exactly, my problematic tendencies are.

Also, I was already kicking myself for including the bit about writing being a “side gig,” so it was nice to have its inclusion confirmed as being unnecessary and even detrimental. I had included it for this pitch because I was thinking it helped to explain the content of the piece being about my having to work full-time, in addition to pitching editors in my spare time. I agree that it is distracting from the pitch itself.

I had not been thinking about what the pitch actually looks like to an editor. The suggestion to eliminate parenthetical asides makes a lot of sense, in terms of someone being able to read smoothly and cleanly through a pitch.

To our readers: Do you agree with this month’s Pitch Fix? What advice would you offer Peterson?

Got a pitch that’s striking out? If you’d like to be an upcoming Pitch Fix subject, please contact Nicole Dieker at dieker.nicole@gmail.com.

Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

Nicole Dieker is a freelance copywriter and essayist. She writes regularly for The Billfold on the intersection of freelance writing and personal finance, and her work has also appeared in The Toast, Yearbook Office, and Boing Boing.... .

Nicole Dieker | @hellothefuture

Nicole Dieker
Guest Blogging

Featured resource

Guest Blogging

Jon Morrow explains how to use the power of guest blogging to catapult your blog to success.

Comments

  1. Yes. Instead ending with

    … Thank you!

    I would have closed with a short paragraph:

    Thank you for your consideration and your time,

    Carisa Peterson

  2. Regretfully I pressed ‘Post Comment’ before adding that you changes were spot on, but conciseness is one’s writing is a hard trick to learn. You always need a fresh pair of eyes. Even for cover letters.

    Thank you for your very interesting and informative post.

  3. And, apparently, comment posts:

    your changes were spot on
    and
    in one’s writing is a hard trick

    Thank you for your patience,
    PJ Braley

  4. Dave Plumb says:

    Old habits are indeed hard to overcome. In Peterson’s response she just couldn’t help throwing in a parenthetical aside. Might as well have just left in the :-)…

  5. Wow, this is my first time reading a pitch analysis here and it hits close to home. Reminds me of when I showed up at a job center with my brilliant-to-me resume and had someone look it over and demand that I take all the sentences out! Putting my pitches on a diet from here on out, and I’ll be tuning in for future installments.

  6. I’d suggest she study up on the use of the past perfect tense (evident in her response, not in her pitch). And I’m guilty of over-using exclamation points, so am hyper-aware of them when I read them.

  7. That fixing was brilliant, actually i too could not understand what she was submitting, will absolutely keep in mind when i submit mine. Thanks.

  8. BL Stoops says:

    It is clear and concise. I am surprised that it is ALL one sentence though. Would you not break it up?

    “I am pleased to pitch “Oops, We Forgot to Tell You — We Can’t Do it All” to Mashable! Provocative and particularly relevant right now as children head back to school, this story is designed to draw in readers from both sides of the Mommy Wars — and is shareable from moms to moms as well as from wives to husbands.”

  9. Marie Hickman says:

    Think Hemingway instead of Dickens and ditch the exclamation points.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Don’t Let This Small Mistake Ruin Your Personal Essay Pitch [The Write Life] […]

  2. […] Don’t Let This Small Mistake Ruin Your Personal Essay Pitch [The Write Life] […]

Speak Your Mind

*